BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson's studio portrait, circa 1935—one of only three verified published photographs
|Birth name||Robert Leroy Johnson|
|Born||May 8, 1911|
|Died||August 16, 1938 (aged 27)|
|Genres||Delta blues, Acoustic blues|
|Instruments||Guitar, vocals, harmonica|
Life and career
Playback speed hypothesis
- Research in the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggests Johnson was buried in the graveyard of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City, not far from Greenwood, in an unmarked grave. A one-ton cenotaph in the shape of an obelisk, listing all of Johnson's song titles, with a central inscription by Peter Guralnick, was placed at this location in 1990, paid for by Columbia Records and numerous smaller contributions made through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund.
- In 1990 a small marker with the epitaph "Resting in the Blues" was placed in the cemetery of Payne Chapel near Quito by an Atlanta rock group named the Tombstones, after they saw a photograph in Living Blues magazine of an unmarked spot alleged by one of Johnson's ex-girlfriends to be Johnson's burial site.
- More recent research by Stephen LaVere (including statements from Rosie Eskridge, the wife of the supposed gravedigger) indicates that the actual grave site is under a big pecan tree in the cemetery of the Little Zion Church, north of Greenwood along Money Road. Sony Music has placed a marker at this site.
Rock and roll
- “Sweet Home Chicago” (1936)
- “Cross Road Blues” (1936)
- “Hellhound on My Trail” (1937)
- “Love in Vain” (1937)
- Eric Clapton, founder and member of many legendary groups, considered Johnson "the most important blues musician who ever lived." He recorded enough of his songs to make Me and Mr. Johnson, a blues-rock album released in 2004 as a tribute to the legendary bluesman (also made into the film Sessions for Robert J). He'd earlier recorded "Crossroads", an arrangement of "Cross Road Blues", with Cream in 1968, leading some to consider him "the man largely responsible for making Robert Johnson a household name."
- Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin referred to him on NPR's Fresh Air (recorded in 2004) as “Robert Johnson, to whom we all owed our existence, in some way.” His group recorded "Traveling Riverside Blues", a song that drew from Johnson's original and quoted a number of Johnson's songs in the lyrics. Not only the lyrics, but the music video was influenced as well - taking images of the 'Delta' that Johnson often wrote about in his own music.
- Fleetwood Mac were strongly influenced by Johnson in the group's early years as a British blues band. Guitarist Jeremy Spencer contributed two covers of Johnson-derived songs to the group's early albums, and lead guitarist Peter Green would later go on to record Johnson's entire catalog over the course of two albums, The Robert Johnson Songbook and Hot Foot Powder.
- In 1990 Spin magazine rated him 1st in its 35 Guitar Gods listing—on the 52nd anniversary of his death.
- In 2008 Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 5th on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time—70 years after he died.
- In 2010 Guitar.com ranked him 9th in its list of Gibson.com’s Top 50 Guitarists of All Time—72 years after he died.
Problems of biography
Awards and recognitions
|1990||Best Historical Album||The Complete Recordings||Blues||Sony/Columbia Legacy||Winner|
Grammy Hall of Fame
|Year Recorded||Title||Genre||Label||Year Inducted|
|1936||Cross Road Blues||Blues (Single)||Vocalion||1998|
National Recording Registry
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
|1936||Sweet Home Chicago|
|1936||Cross Road Blues|
|1937||Hellhound on My Trail|
|1937||Love in Vain|
The Blues Foundation Awards
|Robert Johnson: Blues Music Awards|
|1991||Vintage or Reissue Album||The Complete Recordings||Winner|
Honors and inductions
|2006||Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award||Winner||accepted by son Claud Johnson|
|2000||Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame||Inducted|
|1986||Rock and Roll Hall of Fame||Inducted||Early Influences|
|1980||Blues Hall of Fame||Inducted|
|Rory Block||The Lady and Mr Johnson||2006 (2007 Acoustic Blues Album of the Year)|
|Eric Clapton||Me and Mr. Johnson||2004|
|Peter Green Splinter Group||The Robert Johnson Songbook||1998|
|Peter Green Splinter Group||Hot Foot Powder||2000|
|Peter Green Splinter Group||Me and the Devil||2001 (A 3-CD set consisting of The Robert Johnson Songbook and Hot Foot Powder with 1 CD of original Robert Johnson recordings)|
|John Hammond||At the Crossroads||2003|
|Todd Rundgren||Todd Rundgren's Johnson||2010|
|Big Head Blues Club||100 Years of Robert Johnson||2011|
|Thunder (band)||Robert Johnson's Tombstone||2006|
|Paul Williams||In Memory of Robert Johnson||recorded in 1970, released in 1973|
Films and other media
- The film Crossroads (1986) is about a young white blues guitarist's search for Johnson's "missing" 30th song and the theme of blues artists selling their souls to the devil.
- Stones in My Passway: The Robert Johnson Story (1990), a biographical film by Martin Spottl.
- The Search for Robert Johnson (1991), UK documentary hosted by Blues musician John P. Hammond, son of John H. Hammond.
- Sherman Alexie's novel Reservation Blues (1995) includes Johnson visiting the crossroads on the Spokane Indian Reservation and leaving his enchanted guitar behind.
- Can't You Hear the Wind Howl? The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (1997)
- Hellhounds On My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson (2000, directed by Robert Mugge)
- The song "The Wasteland" by Elton John from his 2001 studio album Songs from the West Coast contains the chorus: "Come on Robert Johnson though we're worlds apart, You and I know what it's like with the devil in our heart, You sold your soul at the Crossroads kept a little of mine on hand I'm wading out this muddy water, been stranded in the wasteland"
- Eric Clapton – Sessions for Robert Johnson (2004, documentary)
- Author Robert Rankin has referenced Johnson in his works The Brightonomicon (2005) and The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code (2007).
- In the show Supernatural, Robert Johnson appears in a flashback in the episode "Crossroad Blues" (season 2, episode 8; 2006) in which he is shown to have sold his soul for his musical talent.
- Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson (2008) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Akira Hiramoto. It is a phantasmagoric reimagining of Johnson's life.[dead link] WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Rory Block and Scott Ainslie discuss Johnson and play his music. Taped 2008-09-29; 60 minutes audio (WMA, MP3), 88 minutes video (WMV).
- To commemorate Johnson's 100th birthday in 2011, Dogfish Head Brewery released "Hellhound on My Ale", a limited edition beer, in collaboration with Sony's Legacy Recordings division.
- (2012) recounts the myth of what happened to Robert Johnson at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
- The character Tommy Johnson played by Chris Thomas King in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? reveals that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for the ability to play the guitar. While the character name and story suggest a direct reference to the real-life Tommy Johnson, the Coen brothers admit in the movie’s director comments that the character is a mashup of Tommy and Robert Johnson myth.
- "The Estate of Robert Johnson" in the series Inheriting Trouble (season 2, episode 6; 2012) talks about his life, death and the controversy of his estate after his recordings are rereleased and turn him into an icon.
- The song "The Devil at the Crossroads", on Magenta's The Twenty Seven Club (2013) is inspired by Johnson.